This post is long overdue. Which I guess is appropriate since the first post about this was exactly three years ago and was about a library.
In 1997, a movie came to the theater and Jeeg and I had every intention of going. It had two major things going for it: it was about a comic book hero and was written and directed by Kenneth Johnson. Unfortunately, or perhaps rather fortunately, it’s tenure in the theater was only two weeks long and we never made it.
As a result, this movie had become one of the very few comic book movies that I had not seen. And the only one (sort of) based on a DC Comics character (until more recent ones I just haven’t caught yet) that I have not seen.
Jeeg stuck his $1 copy of the Steel VHS tape in the mail and sent it my way. I should have jumped on it right then, but years have passed and I had to actually dig out my VCR and hook it back up to watch this. This movie has since made its way to DVD, although, you might read this post before jumping on that.
I’m not stupid. And I wasn’t stupid in 1997. Well, I was a little stupid in 1997, but that’s beside the point. The point is that, as just mentioned, this movie was written and directed by Kenneth Johnson. Say what you will about his pretentious approach to The Incredible Hulk, he gave us a pretty good show despite some off-the-mark, sappy stuff. But if that weren’t enough, he gave us V and the Alien Nation TV series as well. So, I thought that maybe Steel would be better for that. And was it? Well, let’s find out.
I suppose I should say that there will be spoilers in this synopsis. John Henry Irons is in the army as a part of a team that develops specialized weapons. On this team is also “Sparks,” played by Annabeth Gish, and some guy played by Judd Nelson. Apparently everyone on this team gave up the millions of dollars they would have made in corporate tech companies and joined the army to develop weapons. Because, I guess that’s what the army does.
While testing a new sonic blaster gun for a government official, Judd Nelson sneakily turns the blaster up to 11 and causes an accident that kills the official and cripples Sparks. Nelson is dishonorably discharged, and Shaq is fed up and leaves as well. Surprisingly, they both end up going to LA. And even more surprisingly, LA has a population of about 12 people because it just so happens that Nelson winds up working for the company that is funding the gang that is trying to recruit Shaq’s nephew.
Shaq is moving on with his life, leaving weapons development behind him. But he gets dragged back into it when he is riding with his police lady friend and she answers a call where the aforementioned gang is robbing a bank. And they’re using super weapons! Shaq manages to chase one of the robbers down, but is then shot with a phaser blast that was set to stun, I guess.
So, Shaq decides he must fight fire with fire and calls in the help of his crippled former teammate Sparks and Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree. The three of them work around the clock to build the dumbest looking super hero outfit to ever appear on film. I think the costumes in that live action Justice League pilot looked better.
With this super outfit, Shaq can act just as poorly as he did when he wasn’t covering half his face, deflect bullets, and shoot things with his hammer gun. He also has a grappling hook and a motorcycle.
After finishing construction of the suit, Shaq hits the town and stops a mugging and fends off some gang members. His adventures continue the next night when he attempts to stop another high-tech bank robbery. That goes awry and Shaq goes home injured.
Because there are only 12 people who live in LA and Steel is clearly the 7’1″ black guy, everyone pretty much guesses that Steel and Shaq are the same guy and the cops eventually show up and arrest him.
Meanwhile, Judd Nelson has been doing stuff, too that I have been leaving out. Most importantly, he has been building weapons that he intends to sell to the highest bidder. As we’ll find out, it takes very little time, effort, or resources to build these weapons. Judd can do it, and so can Team Shaq. If I lived in that movie, I can only assume I’d be able to build high-tech laser weapons with an old PC, a shoestring, and a cigarette lighter.
Shaq breaks out of jail and he and Shaft head towards the auction event for the final showdown. Of course, Judd has kidnapped Sparks so she can be there for the fun as well and use her weaponized wheelchair. Final battle, blah, blah, blah. Steel wins. The end.
There is nothing original here and it might be one of these worst movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. I didn’t really have high hopes for this, but I had secretly wished that Kenneth Johnson would surprise me. And he did. But in the bad way.
The cast was very earnest and I have to give props to Annabeth Gish. I can’t imagine she was proud of accepting that role, but she gave it her all and actually seemed like she was having fun. She must have been a huge fan of the NBA. Costume was bad. Special effects were bad. The whole thing seemed like it was directed with a TV mentality. Not surprising since Johnson was really only experienced with TV. But V and Alien Nation seemed more cinematic than this did.
Speaking of Alien Nation, there were little homages to that show including Tenctonese graffiti and appearances by Eric Pierpoint and Gary Graham. Nice, but it reeked of Johnson trying to rest on his laurels and not make something new. There were also horrible winks throughout including references to Richard Roundtree designing the “shaft” of the hammer gun, and Shaq’s inability to make free throws.
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